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Jul 28, 2008



Depends on your definition of failure, I guess. I've been in really crappy situations that, directly afterwards, I wished I had avoided. But, years later, realized were terrifically educational for me. I've had relationships that ended badly, but that provide me, to this day, with great memories from when they were fresh.

If everyone lost money, if the builders don't put it on their CV's, if players, on average, were disappointed with the cost/benefit, and if nobody learned anything that helped make the next one better... I'd call that a failure.

So, yeah... Auto Assault was a failure ;-)


The connection with other kinds of social experiments (communes, cults, or cliques in high school) strikes me as apt, especially if you add in a touch of cognitive dissonance. In the end the social aspects of virtual worlds are rather bootstrapped into existence by folks in networked proximity and success as a game, a world or just an aesthetic experience probably does account for much in terms of pure sociality (if there were such a thing).

But then isn't this also an old methods problem again too? How many freako auto assault lovers does it take before one can say "well it lost money, and it stunk on every objective measure but some folks sure had a real good time"?

In sociology there is a variation on the issue of virtual world failure that relates to the study of all social experiments - when is a social group a in fact a social group or the converse - when is a social group a failure at being a social group? Same thing no.


Yeah, exactly. I don't mind passing judgement, but precisely because these are such insistently social forms, it's not an aesthetic judgement. To talk about social failure, you're going to need social theory--and an argument about what is socially good, generative, emancipatory, desirable. That can be "whatever people do is desirable", that public preferences reveal something important about desire, choice, agency. But it's not just about "this makes for a good game".


Lets get all french on this one. Is the Author dead in the MUD?

By this I mean, WHOS perspective are we measureing success by?

Take for instance a favorite around here. Second Life.

To MY opinion, the thing is a dismal obstruction to a much more interesting dream of VR. Total freedom. It sticks dollar signs in front of social and conceptual mobility, and in that respect, TO MY MIND, represents an unwelcome invasion of the virtual by capital.

But to Linden Labs, the Anshe Cheung's and the others of SL, its a triumph, for precisely the same reasons.

Clearly this little post-marxist duck and LL don't see eye to eye.

But who's right. Why should I *care* if LL see it as a successs (perhaps other than as a gaming of the odds of investments in future VRs). What I care about is *MY* visions of VR.


Nice post, very well written. I especially like the last paragraph. Depressing, but well written. Not that I'm one to comment on depressing posts, but...

Games at a basic level tend to require hardcore server and bandwidth resources. So as long as there's someone willing to pay for that... and it surprises me actually just how effective community involvement and donations can be. Very much NOT let do, squeeze every penny of profit type of set up. It is art, though, so I don't know why I would be surprised.

So yeah a virtual tree falls in a virtual forest, playSound still gets called even if there are no players... right?

I think a pure peer-to-peer virtual world would not only be immortal it would be unkillable. If it could live at all, that is.


I think you can say with a fair deal of confidence that a world, that has been cancelled before it went live, has failed. It can be a success from the academic/research point of view, as to "Why did it fail?"; however, this would be what we call "learning from mistakes".


Great post! I think that we can analyze degrees or success or failure by looking at specific aspects of the virtual world, without necessarily resorting to player's opinions about them. Let's take Age of Conan's supposedly branching NPC dialog system, one of the features which is often touted by Funcom as a core selling point. How can one unashamedly call this “branching” when, really, all branches lead to one of two outcomes: accepting the quest/reject the quest. If I choose the offensive option in my multiple-choice quest gathering test I might be told to bugger off, or asked to choose again. If I am dismissed by the NPC all I have to do is click again and choose the servile option. What is the point of investing resources in producing text that if followed goes against the entire structure of progression in the game: ie gathering XP and leveling? So in this way, I would say that the basic level-based structure of AoC is at odds with one of its core selling features. It wants to be innovative but its few innovations are either inconsequential or clash with the borrowed structural conventions of other MMOGs. Although a rather crude and overly summarized argument, one could say that, at least in terms of gameplay design, AoC is a failure but it displays structural incoherences that undermine the features its developers had been bragging about during production.

The question here would be, should the intentions and aspirations of designers feature into an analysis of a virtual world? Sticking to continental post-structuralist literary theory, the answer would be a resounding NO, the text stands on its own and we should treat it on its own merits. But when the text is not only text but a society, things become far more complicated...


success = (cost of development) + expectations

It seems that you need to (at least) break even to succeed. Also, I would think that you need to achieve whatever initial vision you had for the virtual world. So success seems to be dependent on definitions provided at the developer side of the game.

When we (as consumers) say game X is a failure because of Y I think we are using the wrong terminology. The game isn't a failure - it may not fun - or it's not interesting - or it's too complicated - all of which influence the number of subscribers which in turn affects the revenue stream. A lower than expected subscriber base might lead a game company to label a particular virtual world a 'failure' or a higher than expected base a 'success.'

So virtual worlds fail whenver they fail to meet their target subscriber base and fall short of realizing their vision.


I think Thoreau has a good point, however, I would argue that a project, which didn't meet the expectations of the creator, yet exceeded in an unexpected field, could also be considered a success. Example:

- ExampleSoft builds a VW called ExampleVW, expecting to have at least 100 000 subscribers during its Golden Age.
- ExampleVW never breaks the 100k line and goes offline
- ExampleVW does however introduce an innovative tutorial system, which soon gets adopted in every 3rd school in Europe for teaching 2nd grade arithmetics

Did ExampleVW really fail? Did it fail as a game? Or did it just fail as a commercial product?


i think it's odd, frankly, to compare commercial VW's with the fantastic idea of success or failure to any actual success or failure of the VW itself.

most times, the classic entrepreneurship of those companies trying to market VW's fails to live to expectations of success, because of any number of sociological or economical concerns, let alone the expectations of commercial success by launching designed solutions to "bait consumers" rather than "attract players".

without the pressure of having to "compete", many of those now-dead VW's and MMO experiences may actually be quite enjoyable and compelling experiences, if it weren't for the fact those people hated having to spend $300/yr on subscription costs and/or RMT extras.

and does the lack of business success indicate failure ?

i think there are a lot of instances where the MMO environment was shaped by failures both social and financial, i.e. the early avatar based social-chat environments, right up to games like star wars galaxies, which had a quite steady rise in players until market forces transpired to redesign the game and rework the entire VW around the players, or like vanguard, tabula rasa, lord of the rings online, etc. which promise quite a lot of content and experiences with the aim towards increasing player numbers over time, but never quite delivered or succeeded due to numerous risks and pressures to compete.

i don't believe the best measure of a VW is financial success, but perhaps the reverse is true, that financial success can come from successful VW's, that if the actual experience and immersion into that experience is compelling and structured, you can create a personal success from that achievement.

but so can a lot of things once you have that requisite audience that is compelled to return and interact in that particular VW. so, should we be trying to rate MMO's on their immersive capabilities, i.e. functional socialising, roleplaying, or trading elements to determine if they are going to fail to be productive, functional, or utilised past a certain point.

perhaps not. it would take the fun out of random speculation and archetypal research on things like RMT impacts and progressive/degenerative sociological discussion that encourages the wrong kind of people, those not actually interacting or enjoying the experience of the VW, but rather passionately evaluating an experience with a limited set of tools at their disposal.


Wow, someone remembers Atriarch? I spent years working on that game. There were some great ideas involved, most of which came from the original tiny team.

They still claimed development was ongoing when they 'temporarily' let all of the team who weren't actually working for their networking company go.

Sadly, fans still lurk in the IRC channel where we used to do dev chats, unwilling to admit that it will never be released. Some sociology major should use them for a study.


As a value judgement in response to the main question posed in this article, I think it's *good* that virtual worlds fail, and that yes, objectively, virtual worlds do fail. The moment that the connection is unplugged and the virtual world ceases to be part of the landsape of virtual realities, it has failed no matter how successful it had ever been. Intrinsic in the concept of "Virtual World" is longevity--that it persists for a reason and a purpose. I might even go so far to say that success in any given virtual world is only a matter of existence: it exists, or it doesn't exist.

I think we have to believe that virtual worlds are still in their infancy--what does the next century hold, let alone next decade. We are presently staring the big bang in the face and it is going to take a lot of trial and error to see which of these virtual worlds becomes a sustainable and integrated version of our reality.


There are plenty of new startups for MMORPG or games in general, many projects seem to fail because of the lack of funding, while this is a shame that games never reach the end user while plenty of efforts went into the development of them it stays economy wise a business venture where capital and funding are a part of. A good thing that the development of innovative virtual reality keeps growing as time goes on and there is good interest from many startups into this segment of the market.


There are plenty of new startups for MMORPG or games in general, many projects seem to fail because of the lack of funding, while this is a shame that games never reach the end user while plenty of efforts went into the development of them it stays economy wise a business venture where capital and funding are a part of. A good thing that the development of innovative virtual reality keeps growing as time goes on and there is good interest from many startups into this segment of the market.

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